Jun 13, 2016

World Building Part 3: Conflict


You Took My Ball!



The first article in this series discussed how I make rules for my worlds and when I can break them, and the second article in this series talked about resources and how they can inform the world. In this entry I will address conflict. Also please take a moment to look at out Kickstarter for our comic book Nevera Tales and consider support and sharing it.

These common motivations for conflict can be interpersonal, between groups, between countries, and even between worlds. And remember, these conflicts could be resolved before your story begins (adding to the history of your world), begin or end during your story, or not be resolved at all, so be flexible with them. I leave out fighting for survival like in The Hunger Games or Terminator franchise because those are usually self explanatory and also can be some of the most shallow when it comes to plot. We can do a little better.

This is not meant to be a complete list, and there is of course some overlap, but hopefully this can serve as a useful resource to others and a good reminder to myself. I also work with children and so I gave the collection headings which reflect a younger perspective on conflict.

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My Dad Said So
common but simple instigation for conflict is an authority figure commanding it. There could be a physical person or group commanding the conflict which would incorporate some of the motivations below, but sometimes there is no discernible reason for the authority to command the conflict. For example in the Star Wars mythology the followers of the dark side of the Force are compelled by their masters and leaders to wage war and destruction on any who stand in their way, although what they actually want is not always clear and so I feel like it fits here. Another example could be the Red Priests and Priestesses of the Lord of Light in George R. R. Martin's Game of Thrones books, who carry out a great array of conflict and violence based on the commands of the Lord of Light, a god figure with mixed reviews when it comes to what the gods wants or if he actually exists.

My Dad is Stronger Than Your Dad
Similar to the previous entry but different enough to be worth mention is conflict based on cultural or ideological differences. Someone's, culture, religion or way of being can be threatened by the ways of another, or someone's culture may simple require that other cultures be squashed or eliminated. A very literal interpretation of this is the Borg from various Star Trek stories, who deem it is necessary to assimilate all other sentient life forms to their way of existence. Another example would be the extraterrestrials in the movie District 9, who come to Earth as refugees but are oppressed, mistreated and discriminated against simply because they are different.

What Did You Say About My Dad?
The last purely idea based conflict I will include is the classic insult. It can be very important to not appear weak in front of your peers, because it potentially opens up the door to further abuse and loss of power. So if an insult is offered, no matter how small, the response can be very aggressive. It is easy to forget that in the movie 300 based on Frank Miller and Lynn Varley's comic books, the god-king Xerxes initiates contact by offering  a peaceful path forward, but King Leonidas is so insulted by the offer is that he actually initiates the conflict. Another example would be In the Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) where Jamie Foxx's character becomes Electro and a force for destruction all because Spiderman forgot his name, and this amounted to enough of an insult to release a suppressed fury.

You Took My Ball
Now we get into the more resource based motivations for conflict, if somebody takes something of yours that is certainly enough reason to begin a conflict. Either you want it back, or the insult was enough that you have to defend your honor and not appear weak in front of others. The question is, what would you risk to get it back? This could be a resource or an object such as Smaug taking the Lonely Mountain from the Dwarves in J. R. R Tolkien's The Hobbit and their quest to reclaim it from the dragon. Or a person, for example sex traffickers taking Liam Neeson's daughter in Taken. And everyone else who gets taken from Liam Neeson...

Your Ball Looks Better Than Mine
Oh jealousy and greed, those powerful but useless emotions that drives so much harm. When someone has plenty, but desires more, simply because someone else has it. This usually does not end well for the person coveting, for example The Queen in Snow White is very beautiful, but must cause trouble because somebody is slightly more beautiful than herself, or the human causing trouble on Pandora attempting to mine the precious Unobtainium in Avatar. The important point here is that the instigator does not need the thing to survive, but desires it because it exists. I will also include Aesop's fable of The Dog and his Reflection here, because it is short and I adore the story:

"A Dog, bearing in his mouth a piece of meat that he had stolen, was crossing a smooth stream by means of a plank. Looking in, he saw what he took to be another dog carrying another piece of meat. Snapping greedily to get this as well, he let go the meat that he had, and lost it in the stream."

I Want a Ball The Size of a House
For some, there is an appetite for consumption that outmatches any capacity to actually use it. Another way to say it is that they want power for the sake of having power. Examples I consider here would be Sauron and his Orc army in J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of The Rings, who wish to cover the land in darkness, but once they have done so, have no real discernible goals. Also The Kurgan from Highlander wishes to kill all other highlanders to become the most powerful, but if he achieves this, does not seem to have any real practical use for the ultimate power. The important point here is that even if the instigator gained what they desired, they would have no use for it. Like a dog chasing a car...

I Like Kicking Balls Over Fences
This is the conflict instigated by wanton destruction. As the great Michael Caine once said, some men just want to watch the world burn. If you want to dig deeper into the motivation then you could say that conflict gives somebody's life meaning or purpose, and so instigating conflict is a necessary part of them having a fulfilling existence. As hinted, the Joker character of the Batman stories seems to exist only for chaos, but some writers have played with the idea that he is motivated to simply engage in eternal conflict with Batman, and that if Batman did not exist then neither would the Joker. Another example would be the Predator aliens from the Predator movies, who appear to engage in conflict out of no real need or desire other than to engage in conflict, for sport or trials or tests.

Offense is The Best Defense
Of course when it comes to survival, it can sometimes be best to instigate conflict with your neighbors before they begin conflict with you, in order to gain the upper hand. These are some of the most ethically difficult examples of conflict, as it is sometimes hard to justify initiating conflict as self-protection. An example might be Castle Black at The Wall in George R. R. Martin's Game of Thrones, where The Night's Watch members routinely carry out raids north of the wall to weaken the Wildlings and diminish their threat. Also in the 2011 movie Rise of the Planet of the Apes, there are characters on both sides who believe that a preemptive strike on the other is the best course of action, as they believe conflict is inevitable and each wants to fire the first shot.

Lies Deceit and Treachery
Finally, all of the above motivations for conflict can be false, imagined, or the result of misinformation. Many fictional conflicts arise from mistakes, or even purposely instigated based on lies, for profit or other ends by those directly involved or by side groups with their own agendas. Try to have some fun playing with misinformation. 

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